Independent contractors

In California, Protecting Workers Means Outlawing Their Jobs

Assembly Bill 5 was designed to constrain the growth of the so-called gig economy. In practice, it's closing off opportunities

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"As a freelancer, I have the flexibility to do work while I'm at school, or do work late at night, or, you know, not work that week because I'm busy," Kassy Dillon, a journalist and graduate student at Pepperdine University, told Reason in late 2019.

On January 1, 2020, earning that extra cash got a lot more difficult. California Assembly Bill 5 was designed to constrain the growth of the so-called gig economy, based on the theory that companies like Uber, Lyft, and Postmates are taking advantage of contract labor.

Dozens of professions, including many jobs in health care, commercial fishing, grant writing, hair styling, and the fine arts, are exempt from the law. Journalists were allotted a partial exemption of 35 submissions per year per client, which was negotiated by the bill's author, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D–80th District).

"Was it a little arbitrary," Gonzalez told the The Hollywood Reporter regarding how she came up with that number, "Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary." (Gonzalez declined Reason's interview request.)

Vox, which had hailed the new law as a "victory for workers everywhere," announced in December that it will be ending contracts with more than 200 freelancers who lived in or covered California. Those 200 freelance contracts will be replaced with 20 part-time or full-time staff positions.

"This is a really unusual position for people in creative fields like freelance journalism to be in," says Randy Dotinga, a San Diego-based freelance journalist and the former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. "By nature, most of us are liberal, progressive Democrats. We're also pro-union for the most part. And here we are saying this goes too far."

Journalists "might write on a blog post in 20 minutes and they might write dozens of blog posts every month or every year," says Dotinga. "A lot of publications don't have the resources to put someone like that on staff. So they're either going to be limited in what they can write or they're just going to be let go." The American Society of Journalists and Authors has filed a lawsuit arguing that the bill is unconstitutional.

If regulating freelancers is a good idea, why were there so many vaguely defined exemptions written directly into the text of the law? In the lead-up to its passage, most lip service was paid to the plight of Uber and Lyft drivers.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California Hastings, thinks that drivers are mis-classified as independent contractors. "If you have such little bargaining power with the folks that you're consulting with or you're freelancing for," says Dubal, "then it's exploitative."

Uber and Lyft maintain that drivers have flexible schedules and are therefore correctly classified as independent contractors. And 95 percent of California's Uber and Lyft drivers say that the job's flexibility is "extremely" or "very" important to them.

Coral Itzcalli, a spokesperson for Mobile Workers Alliance, which is trying to unionize the industry, says that Uber and Lyft "are paying workers very little wages. You're looking at workers driving 14, 16 hours a day. There's no flexibility in that."

But California Lyft drivers spend an average of 3 hours per week on the app. And according to a 2019 study commissioned by Lyft, the company will likely have to end its arrangements with around 250,000 drivers, and the part-timers, who make up the majority, would be the first to go. 

"For us," says Itzcalli, "this is about focusing on ensuring that jobs are good jobs. If we have one or 100 jobs that are paying less than minimum wage, there is absolutely no benefit. I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs."

But who gets to make that choice? The labor movement or the freelancers taking those jobs?

"I hope that there's some way that the labor movement can look at freelancers of all types, and say this is a valid, honorable profession," says Randy Dotinga. "We are workers too. And many of us choose this field. We are not exploited. We don't exploit others. We're not scabs. We're small businesses and we deserve to be treated that way."

Produced by John Osterhoudt. Camera by Osterhoudt, Zach Weissmueller, and James Marsh.

Photo credit: Vito Di Stefano/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Hayne Palmour Iv/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Earnie Grafton/ZUMApress/Newscom; Charlie Neuman/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Charlie Neuman/ZUMA Press/Newscom; KM2/Ken McCoy / WENN/Newscom; Andre Jenny Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom; Chuck Myers/ZUMA Press/Newscom; ID 42987615 © trekandshoot | Dreamstime.com; ID 169721027 © Andrei Gabriel Stanescu | Dreamstime.com

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  1. “For us,” says Itzcalli, “this is about focusing on ensuring that jobs are good jobs. If we have one or 100 jobs that are paying less than minimum wage, there is absolutely no benefit. I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs.”

    That would look just fine in a dictionary beside the word hubris.

    1. I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs.

      I guess if the 50 good jobs become political clients…

      1. Obviously she didn’t poll the other 50 fired people.

        1. Obviously those people are deplorables.

    2. The truth is he’d rather have 0 jobs than 100 non-union jobs.

      1. They don’t think a non-union job is a job at all.
        Many people who have worked in unions all their lives cannot fathom management in a non-adversarial relationship with labor.

        In Texas, we have union plants and non-union plants. The general opinion is that the union plants are dysfunctional. They are too busy keeping their standing with each of the unions and positions to actually get anything done.

  2. “I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs.””

    I bet those 50 people who don’t get the good jobs would rather have the bad job than no job

    1. At least they won’t be getting exploited while they starve to death.

    2. “I bet those 50 people who don’t get the good jobs would rather have the bad job than no job.”

      See? That just shows how much they need guidance from scumbags like Lorena Gonzalez.

  3. Honestly, screw Randy Dotinga & Kassy Dillon. These are journalists that would happily moralize about how evil it is for other Americans to choose how and when they work for employers in other industries, but as soon as they’re the ones who are harmed, they start to cry like the dumb-ass children that they are.

    I hope they have to stop doing what they love for a living. They don’t deserve to be journalists. They don’t deserve to be happy with their work since they do everything they can to make other people miserable. Fuck them.

    1. Lefty journalists: Government labor regulation is good, we need way more of it.

      California: *Regulates them out of existence*

      Lefty journalists: Wait, not like that.

      1. I have absolutely zero sympathy for them. I hope they have major financial problems because of this.

        1. I agree, fuck em with a rusty cactus. If they’re too dumb to see that the machine they created will eventually be turned against them they deserve all the bad things that happen to them.

          1. Exactly. Wait until the Wokenstein’s Monster the millenials created comes shambling over to them for their sins.

            1. Wokenstein’s Monster

              Alright, that’s good stuff.

  4. “This is a really unusual position for people in creative fields like freelance journalism to be in,” says Randy Dotinga, a San Diego-based freelance journalist and the former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. “By nature, most of us are liberal, progressive Democrats. We’re also pro-union for the most part. And here we are saying this goes too far.”

    Randy Dotinga is both stupid and an asshole.

    1. The preferred term is “ignoranus”

  5. Depends.
    If the ‘worker’ is a union official, why SB5 is just peachy!

  6. “For us,” says Itzcalli, “this is about focusing on ensuring that jobs are good jobs. If we have one or 100 jobs that are paying less than minimum wage, there is absolutely no benefit. I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs.”

    He means that he would rather have 50 union dues paying jobs than 100 non union dues paying jobs. It is all in the definition of “good jobs”

  7. Some principles are really good at guiding political actions. There really are some universally correct short answers:

    You own yourself.

    Don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff.

    Voluntary agreements are always acceptable and nobody else’s business.

    I will never comprehend (beyond being control freaks) people whose mindset cannot allow other people to make voluntary agreements.

    1. I think it’s actually a mixture of envy and intense selfishness for most people.

      “But how will your independent choices make ME feel?!!?! What if I don’t like thought of that?!!”

      1. Those who can’t control themselves will try to control others.

    2. It’s jealousy, and self-preservation to some extent.

      If I want to drive for Uber but my demand is that they give me at least $10 for every ride regardless of how long it is, and someone else is willing to do it for $5, well that’s a problem for me isn’t it?

      Rather than accepting that their labor isn’t actually worth $10, they just outlaw the guy who did it for $5.

  8. “By nature, most of us are liberal, progressive Democrats. We’re also pro-union for the most part. And here we are saying this goes too far.”

    “For the most part” meaning as long as it doesn’t interfere with you getting work. I’m sure none of this will cause any of you to maybe reexamine your position.

  9. “I hope that there’s some way that the labor movement can look at freelancers of all types, and say this is a valid, honorable profession,” says Randy Dotinga. “We are workers too. And many of us choose this field. We are not exploited. We don’t exploit others. We’re not scabs. We’re small businesses and we deserve to be treated that way.”

    You walked onto their turf, shit all over it, then laughed at them. I’m sure those union boys will understand.

  10. Is it just me or does that chick have a real Bailey Quarters thing going on?

    1. Bailey was hotter. But yes.

      +1 Turkeys hitting the ground like bags of wet cement.

  11. If stale clingers don’t like California, they should move to Wyoming, or West Virginia, or Mississippi, or Iowa, or South Carolina, or some other hayseed paradise.

    In any event, they should quit whining. I doubt California is paying much attention to them.

    1. OK rev; 34 more posts and you are done for the year – – – – – – –

    2. Stale clingers, like the progressive freelance journals quoted here? I think Artie hates everybody, Iowans, Cali Progs, everybody

  12. Of course, this has nothing to do with “good jobs” or “bad jobs”.
    This is all about outlawing an area of the economy where individuals get to choose for themselves, and shoving the serfs into strictly controlled factory jobs where the state can regulate their every action.

    1. Quit whining. Is that genuinely how you wish to spend the time you have left before replacement, whimpering about successful states such as California?

      1. Are you, of all people, claiming that someone else is wasting their time whining in the Reason comments section?

      2. You understand that giant piles of shit in the streets don’t normally count as ‘successful’, right?

      3. “Quit whining….”

        Asshole bigot once again offers advice he should take.
        Stuff it up your butt so your head has some company.

      4. Thousands of Lefty freelance writers are getting replaced. I think this is what Artie meant all along

    2. We want the state to take care of us! The only way this company will take care of us is if the state forces them to!

  13. We have too many freedoms in this country.
    Vote labor-oriented Democrats and help to reduce our freedoms. It’s for our own good.

  14. Democrats HATE small business as it represents the most effective way for common folk to build wealth or otherwise make their way how they like. Their preference is that we all work for large companies and when we don’t like our wage we have to complain through politicians who “go to bat for us” by getting entertained, wined and dined at vineyards, golf courses, and fine restaurants by the lobbies and big businesses. That and they can target us with their useless “government programs”. This is yet another swipe at those who dare to do it their own way.

  15. Here’s some tasty irony…

    The State of California has several pending propositions where signatures have to be collected. Those signatures have to be verified. The company hired to verify the signatures contracts with independent contractors to verify the signatures. They cannot hire workers in California.

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  17. How is Open Borders Uber Alles working for ya in CA?

    Import Big Government Voters, Get Big Government.
    Import Not Americans, Become Not America.

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  21. California circling the drain faster and faster.

  22. I arranged with Santa Clara University to teach an adult education course on my most recent book. I had taught such a course before, as an independent contractor. This time, I had to fill out a lot of paperwork in order to qualify as a temporary employee.

    One part of the process was bringing in my passport to prove I was a U.S. citizen. That was only a nuisance for me, but it would be an absolute bar for an illegal immigrant taking work as an employee rather than a free lancer. I wonder if it occurred to the California legislators who passed the bill, in a state whose government is generally very hostile to the enforcement of immigration law, that they were doing Trump’s work for him.

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  24. “I [would] rather have 50 good jobs than a 100 bad paying jobs.”

    Maybe they should ask the 50 people who would lose their jobs what they think.

  25. The part where their hours are not as flexible as they are advertised hazard perception test nsw because they can’t make any decent money if they don’t work during a particular time, that’s just the market doing it’s job. It is signalling to them when society needs them most urgently.

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  28. I hate to say it but sometimes the best course of action is to do just exactly what your “enemy” wants you to do, according to Sun Tsu. Uber & Lyft need to shut down in California and let Sacramento see how the voters feel about that!

    They did that in Austin, TX and as a result they got what they wanted. In the meantime there was an increase in drunk driving incidents as well as, tragically, a death due to a drunk driver.

    The market takes time to react to significant changes in demand, so if Uber and Lyft shut down you will have (a) 250,000 people out of work or with reduced income and (b) millions of people that relied on those company now with no other transporation option.

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  31. I don’t think ‘journalism’ falls under the ‘creative work’ exemption.

    To quote the labor code: Work that is original and creative in character in a recognized field of artistic endeavor (as opposed to work which can be produced by a person endowed with general manual or intellectual ability and training), and the result of which depends primarily on the invention, imagination, or talent of the employee or work that is an essential part of or necessarily incident to any of the above work

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